Skills required for experimental research?

PathIntegrals92
Posts: 190
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Skills required for experimental research?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Mon Dec 08, 2014 11:45 am

Out of curiosity, what are the skills one gains or gets from experimental research?

Mostly curious about CME.

I think I am interested in pursuing experiment for graduate school, but I do not have the research experience for it. Would potentials advisors allow you to rotate through groups? I know the type of topics in CME I am interested ( as well as not interested), but not much about the how research is conducted.

Would potential advisors be okay with letting in a student with zero experimental skills? This must happen right?

I know some schools that do not allow one to do research until one passes the quals. However, I also have schools that do not even have quals...

TakeruK
Posts: 815
Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Skills required for experimental research?

Postby TakeruK » Mon Dec 08, 2014 1:36 pm

People with no undergraduate research experience in X (whether X is experiment or anything else) definitely do get into graduate programs in X. Just keep in mind that those with X are generally more qualified. It will also depend on the nature of the professor. Some professors want their students to just be extensions of their own research machine and thus only want to take students with some experience in X and get them to do research in X (still good for the student since their ability in X will expand). Other professors view their job as more of an instructor than a "CEO" and some of them might really enjoy training complete newbies in X and turn them into experts in X. So if you want to do more in X and have no background in X, you just have to find a good fit!

My anecdote is that I had absolutely no experience at all using telescopes to gather astronomical data when I began grad school. I applied to the best schools for observational astronomy (access to the best telescopes) and wrote in my SOP that I wanted to learn observational astronomy. I was successful, and now I am very happy learning a ton about observational astronomy, even leading observational runs and training others.

In my opinion, for graduate school admission, research experience is research experience. Of course, there are some specific skills you might get out of one experience vs. another, but the fundamentals are all the same. Skills/experience like: thinking critically about your work and others' work; making quick and sound decisions; communicating with peers, supervisors, and collaborators; writing up your methods and results; presenting your work in talks and posters; and how to log/record your work are all important skills and common to almost all projects. Basically, the type of learning that is "beyond the classroom" is the main thing you can get out of research experience and the main thing that will help with admission.

Now, with each "X", there are different skills you might learn. For example, with experimental research experience, you might also learn statistical methods; actual hands-on skills; how to manage your resources; how to work as a team; how to use specific pieces of highly specialized equipment, etc. Depending on the project/lab you want to work on/in, some aspects might be more important. e.g. if the experiment requires a lot of fine motor skills to finely tune optics then you might need to demonstrate that.

Other than exceptions above, I don't think you need to directly demonstrate previous experimental research experience to get into a good experimental research graduate program. I think good general research experience is going to be one of the most important factors. You can indirectly demonstrate ability by being really good at other aspects of Physics/research (especially the theory behind the experiments). And you can directly demonstrate ability in related and useful skills (e.g. data analysis, which requires coding ability etc.).

PathIntegrals92
Posts: 190
Joined: Tue Oct 07, 2014 12:42 pm

Re: Skills required for experimental research?

Postby PathIntegrals92 » Mon Dec 08, 2014 4:19 pm

Thank you for the thorough response TakeruK! It's extremely helpful.

TakeruK wrote:Other professors view their job as more of an instructor than a "CEO" and some of them might really enjoy training complete newbies in X and turn them into experts in X. So if you want to do more in X and have no background in X, you just have to find a good fit!


I am definitely looking for the non CEO type of professors. I guess ones who take undergraduates are, for the most part, not the CEO type.

TakeruK wrote:My anecdote is that I had absolutely no experience at all using telescopes to gather astronomical data when I began grad school. I applied to the best schools for observational astronomy (access to the best telescopes) and wrote in my SOP that I wanted to learn observational astronomy. I was successful, and now I am very happy learning a ton about observational astronomy, even leading observational runs and training others.


That is pretty awesome! I too hope that I will be successful!

TakeruK wrote:Now, with each "X", there are different skills you might learn. For example, with experimental research experience, you might also learn statistical methods; actual hands-on skills; how to manage your resources; how to work as a team; how to use specific pieces of highly specialized equipment, etc. Depending on the project/lab you want to work on/in, some aspects might be more important. e.g. if the experiment requires a lot of fine motor skills to finely tune optics then you might need to demonstrate that.


Thank you for elaborating on some of the skills one acquires. I guess the main reason I made this post is because my friends who are doing experimental research didn't really tell me the skills. They sort of say "I push buttons until something works" or "I code and try to fix bugs because I am trying to simulate X", or "I am building this small part for this big machine in the south pole". However, they all have plenty of prior experience so it all just sounded intimidating.

I guess working in a team is very important, I do not have that experience. Unless if you count me and my advisor being a team :mrgreen:

I do think my theory research background provided me with very important skills and i am definitely highlighting those in my SOP. My letters would indicate it as well.

Let's just say that I may have developed a phobia of working in a lab due to a prior experience. :/ I want to get over this really badly... I know the transition will be hard, but i hope to be able to do it

In terms of finding a good fit, I feel like the best way of knowing that is by emailing right? 3/4 professors I emailed replied with very encouraging responses, but they were all theorists. I haven't been successful with getting a reply from an experimentalist yet, but I am still working on it. Maybe I should email the graduate students instead.




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